Sallie Savers Celebrate Big Night with LEA

The initial email was sent by Mary Jewett of Lakes Environmental Association in Bridgton, Maine, on Tuesday:

Hello everyone!

Many amphibians have already crossed and laid eggs but there are still some waiting in the woods. Tomorrow evening looks like it will be perfect conditions for an amphibian migration and I would like to get a group together to go out with me. My plan would be to meet at the office at 8pm. With sunset being at 7:40 I really wouldn’t want to start any earlier since the frogs and sallies won’t move when it’s light out.

I want to get an idea of who would be able to come out with me. I have a reporter and videographer coming out from the Bangor Daily News and they would like to get shots of actual people (not just me) and possibly get some quotes from participants. I know that it’s tough to get out with kids since it starts so late but I hope that we can get a diverse group. We also may have the opportunity to check out egg masses that are already in the water!

And then this afternoon, Mary sent this follow-up message:

I have heard from a handful of people who are able to come out tonight so I’m going for it. Here are some details:

Meet at the LEA office building (230 Main Street) at 8pm
We will caravan up to the Masonic Hall and walk to Dugway Road from there.
Bring high powered flashlights/headlamps
Wear warm clothes and rain gear. It looks like the rain may be pretty heavy when we are out there. Good for amphibians but not so great for people trying to stay dry.
Wear reflective clothing if you have some. I have vests available if you don’t have your own.
Do not wash your hands with soap or put on hand lotion or hand sanitizer.
I have spoken to the police and they are going to try and send someone out. They have a training program this evening so we might not see them. This makes it extra important that kids stay with their parents at all times!

b3-amphibian crossing sign

And so we did just that–met at the LEA office first, and then moved on to the Masonic Hall to park before beginning our journey into the wet and wild world of the amphibians.

b1-redbacked

Right away, we noticed worms. And even better, a red-backed salamander. Red backs don’t use vernal pools to mate, but they sure do love rainy nights that offer great opportunities to roam about seeking food.

b2-red backed salamander

We crossed the field from the Hall to Memory Land, our eyes ever looking for more red backs, but instead we noted a kazillion worms, each the size of a young snake. And then, after only a few minutes on the road another red backed graced us with its presence.

b4-Mary explains rules of the road

Finally, we reached Dugway Road, our destination, and Mary took a few minutes to remind folks of safety rules. Some years the Bridgton police are able to join us and either shut the road down or at least slow traffic. Such was not the case tonight and so it was important that our crowd of at least twenty ranging in age from four years old to 70+ be cautious.

b4-walking the road

And then the real fun began. We spread out across the road with flashlights and headlamps, walking with care as we tried to notice the little things in life who chose this night to return to their natal pools in order to mate.

b6-spring peeper

Right away, the good times got rolling as we began to spot spring peepers. Really, it was those with eagle eyes who spotted the most, which wasn’t easy given the asphalt conditions. Though we knew better, we did have to wonder if the amphibians chose this road because it provided good camouflage.

b5-first catch- spring peeper

Being the first of the night, Mary demonstrated the fine art of capturing the peeper, explaining first that her hands were damp and had no soap or cream upon them.

Outstretched hands of one of the younger set awaited a transfer.

b5-pass off

The mission was to help the peeper get to the other side of the road. Typically, once captured, we transport them to the side in which they were headed.

b5-final pass off

The release was made into the youngster’s hands and then onward child holding frog went. Lucky for the frog, there was a culvert at the side and that seemed like the safest place to release it.

b14-into the vernal pool

Further down the road, the songs of the wood frogs and peepers were almost deafening. As we looked into the vernal pool that was still half covered in ice, there was some movement, but the frogs all continued to sing despite our presence, unlike what happens when we approach a pool during the day and they dive under the leaf cover for a few minutes.

b7-spotted salamander

We found enough peepers, but the stars of the night were the spotted salamanders.

b8-sally and worm

The youngest among us picked up one of the ubiquitous worms that marked the night and laid it down beside a sallie.

b9-sally eyes

Sallie didn’t care. It was on a mission and just wanted to move on without our interference. There was only one thing on its mind and we suddenly stood between it and that goal.

b12-salamander

It had a dance to perform before the sun rose and we had a heck of a nerve for getting in the way. I’m always in awe of these creatures who spend at least 11.5 months under the leaf litter and maybe a week or two in the pool. Our rare chance to catch a glimpse of them is on such a rainy night as tonight.

b10-sally on card

Our intentions were in their favor. We only wanted to help save them from the vehicles that passed by.

b11-sally's world

In the end, though, I had to wonder–is this what the salamander’s world looked like as we scooped it up and helped it across.

Possibly, but still, it’s always a thrill for tots, tweens, teens, and all the rest of us to celebrate Big Night with the Lakes Environmental Association. We are the Sallie Savers.

The Amazing Race–Our Style, episode 3

We were a bit confused by the clue–something about an oven and ice and we felt like maybe we were headed to a kitchen. My guy doesn’t cook all that much and I avoid it as much as possible, so we knew this was going to be a tough leg of the race. Surely, we’d be there all night trying to concoct something and the sky would darken on our chance of winning.

To top it all off, it was an equalizer. That meant that though we were early to the starting point, all participants would begin at the same time. And so we had some time on our hands and a few dollars to spend on lunch and libations.

o1-clue

As we sipped, our clue was revealed. And we were ready to heed it, despite our anxiety over the cooking issue.

o2-footbridge

Following lunch, we still had more time to kill and decided to walk across the footbridge in Boothbay Harbor.

o3-ghost harbor

It was a bit of a ghost harbor on this day, but it won’t be long and people and boats and more people will fill this space.

o5-sign of snow

As we walked around town, we did some window shopping–of the best sort.

o4-clock

And then a view at a clock reminded us that we had a place to be by 1:15.

o6-crooked sign

Look for the crooked sign, the clue stated. We found it.

o8-trail conditions

Follow the trail. We did.

o10-mud below

Note the tide. It was obviously out.

o11-bridge

Locate the bridge that connects Oven Mouth Preserve West to Oven Mouth Preserve East. Bingo.

o13-ice house cove dam

But what was below us, we wondered. And that was our next challenge. We had to figure out the configuration of this land. It looked like an old bridge, but rather, it was a former dam that had been used to create an ice pond on the other side of the bridge upon which we stood. Aha–the icy portion of this leg of the race. Our task was to discover its history. Reading a brochure produced by the Boothbay Region Land Trust we learned the following: “In 1880, in response to a growing demand for ice, [the cove now known as Ice House Cove] was dammed to form a fresh-water pond and an ice house was built. The ice was shipped by schooner, mainly to Boston and New York.” Today, any blocks of ice would surely have melted as happened in our water bottles.

o7-garter snake

While we looped around the two peninsulas we had a several other challenges to complete. First, we needed to find three examples of critter sign–other than the ubiquitous red squirrel middens. We checked off number one with a garter snake that slithered past.

o7b-mammal tracks

Number two: mammal tracks in the mud below. We couldn’t get close enough to identify it, but noted the trotting pattern.

o7a-wasp nest

And number three, the remnants of a paper wasp nest.

Another challenge down. How many more to go?

o12-scavenger 2

It wasn’t long before the next presented itself as we wound our way around the property. First, we needed to find evidence of the land’s former use–as a sheep pasture in the 19th century.

o12-scavenger hunt 1

And then the letter D. We never did learn what the D stood for, but . . . we found it.

o15-sausage-shaped boudins

And finally, a sausage-shaped boudin among the folds, formed by the pinching and swelling from compression and shearing.

o13-Cross river

The tide slowly flowed in as we journeyed on.

o14-rip where Back and Cross River met

And at the point where the Cross River met the Back River, we noted a rip current visible in the swirls.

o14-ice house dam and today's bridge

At last we crossed back over the bridge from east to west and then peeked at the dam juxtaposed as it was in the shadow of the modern-day bridge.

o16-oven?

From the outermost point of the west side, we paused to look back toward the dam and bridge–did the early explorers really see this rounded cove as the inside of an oven, thus naming it Ovens Mouth? It was certainly unique. Fortunately, we could enjoy the view without turning up the heat. If they thought it was an oven, we agreed. If it meant we didn’t have to cook, we definitely agreed.

From the brochure, we did learn more history: “This area has always been inviting for maritime activities because of its deep-water access and protected location. Settled in the mid-1700s, one of the region’s earliest shipyards was located here and both British and American vessels hid in the coves during the Revolution. Soon after the Civil War, the property came into the hands of the Tibbets-Welsh family, who owned it for more than a hundred years.”

o17-kissing tree

We had one last challenge to complete before finding our way to the mat. Our final mission: to note three sights that represented our relationship.

Kissing trees–check.

o17-heart

A heart-shaped rock–check.

o17-pigeons

Whispering sweet nothings–check. (Note the heart-shaped white cere on their bills. And no, he is not picking her nits. Well, even if he is, isn’t that a loving move?)

Once again, we managed to stay ahead of other contestants, didn’t squabble too much, avoided our worst fears and completed the assigned tasks without much stress. In the third episode of our imaginary rendition of The Amazing Race–Our Style, we landed on the mat in first place once again. What’s next? Stay tuned.

 

 

 

Dear Earth

Dear Earth,

In your honor, I decided that on this Earth Day I would head out the back door and travel by foot, rather than vehicle.

e1-Mount Washington

My journey led me down the old cow path to the power line right-of-way and much to my delightful surprise, Mount Washington was on display. It was so clear, that I could even see the outline of buildings and towers at the summit. Thank you for providing such clarity.

e2-vernal pool

Rather than walk to the mountain, I turned in the opposite direction and found my way to the vernal pool, where ice still covered a good portion. You know, Earth, as much as I want this to be a significant vernal pool because it does usually have two qualifiers (and only needs one): more than forty wood frog egg masses or more than twenty spotted salamander egg masses, I know that it is not. I believe it was created as part of the farm based on the rocks at the far end, not exactly forming a retaining wall, but still situated so close together in a way that I haven’t found anywhere else in my extensive journeys of the hundreds of acres behind our house. Plus, it dries up much too quickly to be a natural pool. And each year I’m surprised to find wood frogs, their egg masses, spotted salamander spermatophores, and their egg masses, given that the water evaporates before the tadpoles finish forming. If these species return to their natal vernal pool, Earth, then how can that be since no one actually hopped or walked out as a recently matured adult? Or were these frogs on their way to another pool and they happened upon this one? You know me, Earth–lots of questions as I try to understand you better.

e4-dorsal amplexus

Whatever the answer is, each year you work your magic and on a visit yesterday afternoon, I spied a male wood frog atop a female in what’s known as amplexus, aka, mating. According to Maine Amphibians and Reptiles, edited by Malcolm L. Hunter, Aram J.K. Calhoun, and Mark McCollough, “When mating, the male clings tightly to the females back. Visible contractions of the female’s body signal the onset of oviposition, at which time the male’s hind feet are drawn up close to the female’s vent. As the eggs are expelled, the male releases sperm into the water and strokes the egg mass with his hind feet, which presumably aids in distributing the sperm more evenly.” I looked this morning, but didn’t find any sign of eggs. Don’t worry, Earth, I’ll keep looking because perhaps they were there but hadn’t absorbed water yet.

e5-dead frog

One other thing I saw yesterday that greatly disturbed me was a dead frog in the water. Last year I also found such. My concern is that it was caused by a virus, but perhaps it was old age. Or some other factor. I do have to confess, though, Earth, I intervened and removed the body from the pond. I know, I know, it’s all part of the cycle of life, and I should leave nature to its own devices, but disease was on my mind and I didn’t want others to be affected. I may have been too late. Only time will tell.

e7-leaf variety

When I arrived this morning, I’m happy to report that I didn’t see any dead frogs. For the longest time I stood upon a rock–you know the one I mean, Earth, for you’ve invited me to stand there before. It’s sunny in that spot and the frogs know it well, for that is where they’ll eventually deposit their eggs. As I waited, I looked down at the leaves on the pool’s bottom and noticed how they offered a reflection of the trees above, beech and oak and maple and pine and hemlock. All still displayed their winter colors, but when the pool does dry up, they’ll turn dark brown and form a mat that will provide nutrients for the plants that colonize the area. You’ve got a system, don’t you Earth.

e8-frog 1

I knew if I stood as still as I could, I would be rewarded. While beech and oak leaves, the last to fall from their trees, danced somersaults across those already on the ground and matted by the past winter’s snow, red and gray squirrels chatted and squawked, and chickadees sold cheeseburgers in their songs, my eyes constantly scanned the pool. And in a flash, a frog emerged from under those leaves.

e8-wood frog 1a

For a while he floated, allowing the breeze to push him to and fro within a two square-foot space. But then he decided to climb atop a downed branch. Perhaps he was trying out a calling sight to use once I left.

e9a--wood frog 3

And then, there was another. And after that another. Yesterday I saw a total of six. Today only four. But that doesn’t mean the others weren’t hiding until I left, right Earth? I hope that’s what it meant. One thing you have taught me via the frogs is patience. If I stand still long enough at least one will swim to the surface. And they, too, are patient as they wait: for me to leave; for the gals to come. Well, maybe when the gals do come they aren’t all that patient.

e10-mosquito larvae

I actually returned to the pool a second time today and more of the ice had melted. While in the late morning I couldn’t see any insects on the move, in the early afternoon I eyed thousands of mosquito larvae. Everyone moans about mosquito larvae, Earth, but . . . they provide food for salamanders and the adult form for birds. I’m just trying to look on the bright side.

e11- snowmobile trail

This afternoon, I waited and waited for the frogs to emerge, but either my eyes didn’t key in on them or they decided to wait until I left. So . . . I finally did just that, and did head toward Mount Washington after all, following the snowmobile trail. As you well know, Earth, it was a bit tricky between the snow, soft mud, ruts and rocks exploding from your earth.

e11a-boots

My right foot managed to fall through the icy snow into a hidden rut filled with water that covered my Bog boots. And then my left foot found some mud that squelched with glee. Or was that you squealing with delight, Earth? I had one wet sock, but ventured on.

e11b-Mansion Road

At the junction, I turned to the west, following the log road and remembering the days of yore when my guy and I, as well as neighbor Dick Bennett, used to work up a sweat on a winter day following a snow storm, for it was our duty to you, Earth, to release the snow from your arched gray birch trees. And then, a few years ago, the road became the main route to the timber landing/staging area again, and all of those trees we’d worked so hard to protect year after year were cut to make way for machinery. As much as my heart broke, it does give me time to watch forest succession in action, and I gave thanks that you have such a plan in mind.

e14-deer dance

It also provided a blank stage upon which the does danced and left behind their calling cards.

e12-buck

And Buck sashayed each partner across the floor. The deep dew claw marks and cloven toes indicated he’d made quite an impression.

e11c-coyote scat

All along the way, upon raised rocks in the middle of the “road,” coyote and fox scat was prominent and in the sandy surface I also found their prints.

e18-vernal pool near landing

At the left-hand turn that led to the landing, I was surprised when I shouldn’t have been, for suddenly a million “wrucks” filled the air. I knew the water was there but it had slipped my mind. Thank you for the song of many more wood frogs. Thanks for filling my ears with joy.

e15-wood frog egg masses

And the chance to spy their good works. Thankfully, you make sure that life continues. At least in the form of wood frog egg masses.

e17-wood frog egg mass

I loved their gelatinous blob-like structure, all bumpy on the outside they were. Actually, I believe what looked like one mass, was several, but I didn’t dare step in to check and disturb the frogs that hid below.

e16-wood frog 5

Again I stood as still as possible, and again I was rewarded. For a bit I thought that the frog before me had no arms, but then I realized that they were just plastered to its sides.

e19-wood frog under log

A squirrel sounding bigger than itself caught my attention briefly and I turned unexpectedly. When I turned back, the frog was no longer at the water’s surface, but appeared below a downed gray birch. For a while the two of us remained still. I hoped another frog or two or three or three thousand would pop up, but that wasn’t your plan, was it? It’s okay. One was enough.

e21-log landing

I finally left my one, oops, I mean your one frog alone and continued on to the log landing, noting all the mammal tracks and looking for other signs. There was more scat, but I was disappointed not to find bobcat or moose prints. Where were you hiding them? I suspect the moose had moved to the swamp below.

Rather than go much further, for major ruts from the logging equipment were filled with water, I turned around just beyond the landing and headed back across it. Twenty-five years ago it was a much smaller clearing with a few pine trees. Over the years, I’ve watched it change and the mammal activity as well. And then, about five years ago it was converted back to a landing and I can’t wait for it to fill in again, but my desire and your plan are not necessarily the same, are they?

It all seemed like so much destruction, but I had to remind myself that I am part of the equation, with my own needs for power and wood and food and everything that you provide. And cuts do bring about a change, sometimes for the better, for the trees and the mammals and the birds and the plants and the decomposers and the consumers and all who call this place home. Am I convincing you, Earth? Am I convincing myself?

e22-frog 7

As I passed by the lengthy vernal pool again I decided to revisit the egg masses. I stood on the rock and slowly scanned the area. No frogs. On second glance, there was one right beside the rock on which I stood. And it looked like the same one I’d seen previously. I wondered why. Why didn’t I scare it? Was that you, Earth, taking a peek at me?

e23-Mourning Cloak butterfly

I had one more surprise on my journey–the first butterfly of the season, a mourning cloak. With its wings closed, it wasn’t all that attractive.

e24-mourning cloak

But upon opening them, I saw its beauty hidden within–another lesson, eh Earth? Oh, and your sense of humor. For yes, that was coyote scat on which the butterfly sucked as it sought amino acids and other nutrients. A fly also dined. Yum.

What a day, Earth. Your day. Dear Earth Day. May I remember to treat you so dearly every day.

Sincerely,

wondermyway

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tramping with Teresa

It was a sad week. It was a happy week. Both, of course, are understatements. But that’s how life is. And so today, four days after Tom Henderson, the executive director of the Greater Lovell Land Trust, passed from his human form to that of an otter, his partner Teresa and I escaped to the woods.

Like Tom, I want to be reincarnated as an otter, for they seem to have the most fun.

s1-peering in

And fun it was as Teresa and I parked near the Leach Link Trail and walked down Stone House Road for I was afraid we’d get stuck in the mud and snow. OK, so I like to have fun, but getting stuck wasn’t high on my list of “this is a blast” must dos. Maybe it’s my advanced age. 😉

Actually though, I was glad for the opportunity to walk the road, because I knew what I wanted to show Teresa. But, she discovered a few other things worth looking at first. Curiosity was the name of our game and nothing would go unexamined–much like an otter would move through the landscape.  And so, at the old camp that rarely seems to see much use, we peered through the windows.

s2-peering up

And up to the eaves where another home showed its facade.

s3-pole 1

As we continued on, we played telephone. Remember that game where you sat or stood in a line and passed a message along and by the time it reached the last person, the message was totally changed and somehow quite humorous? Well, the rules were a wee bit changed today and our telephone was more like tag. In black bear tradition. All along the road, we stopped to check the poles for signs left behind like the upside down 1.

s5-pole 17

Scratches and bite marks marred the poles in a way that made our hearts beat with wonder.

s6-pole

And that hair, oh my! Who needs lions and tigers?

s7-gate

At last we reached the gate . . . and walked around it. Six hundred acres of the Stone House property is under conservation easement with the Greater Lovell Land Trust thanks to the foresight of the owners and guidance of Tom.

s9-airfield looking back toward the mtns

Onto the airfield we walked and then turned around for the view was as commanding as usual. To our right, the Stone House, built over a hundred years ago with granite quarried on the grounds. In front of us, the mountains of Evans Notch, including the Bald Faces and the Basin Rim. And immediately before us, the military airstrip built in the 1940s for training exercises during WWII.

s11-Rattlesnake Brook

Onward we continued until we reached Rattlesnake Brook and the old orchard.

s12-rattlesnake brook

The water soothed our souls.

s13-Colts Foot

And then a spot of color caught Teresa’s eye. Coltsfoot, a perennial that resembles dandelions, and is the first flower to appear in spring.

s14-colts foot

Tom would have known this, but I never trust my own information about foraging–Coltsfoot can be tossed in a salad to add an aromatic flavor, blended with honey to remedy a cough, or dried and chopped up, then mixed into pancake batter. But . . . don’t take my word for it. Tom was the chef. My best culinary creation–popcorn.

s15-false hellebore

False Hellebore or Indian Poke was our next spring ephemeral. I’ve always been drawn to its ribbed leaves, but today noticed something different–the stiff-haired growth that embraced it. Rhizomes? I’m not sure.

s15-wider open

As we walked, we paid constant attention to our foot placement for the young plants were everywhere and we knew other plants were also just emerging. And so we tiptoed.

s20-ostrich fern fertile frond

The feather-like fertile fronds of last year’s ostrich fern also drew our attention.

s16-beaver works

And beaver works that suggested a visitor in the fall of 2017.

s17-rattlesnake brook

As drawn as our eyes were to the plants at our feet, reflections in the water and life in general graced our afternoon.

s14-cliffs

We noted the cliffs above where Peregrine Falcons nest.

s22-stream

Continuing on, another stream spoke to us–its water murmuring our thoughts . . .

s23-water fall

and mirroring our memories.

s23-Shell Pond

A wee bit further, we stepped down toward Shell Pond and enjoyed the view offered.

s24-beaver lodge

Including a lodge inhabited by local residents.

s25-cherry bark

On the way back we were stopped in our tracks by a cherry tree almost totally debarked by a bark beetle.

s26-cherry bark

We both knew beaver and porcupine trees and had seen the hieroglyphics left by bark beetles before, but never had we seen such fresh work. Black cherry bark is often described as burnt potato chips and as Teresa noted, all had spilled out of the bag and lay on the ground.

s27-fork in the road

Our adventure ended at the fork in the road. When you come upon it, don’t take it 😉 But do pause.

Pausing was the name of our game today as we traversed five miles together and shared Tom moments while channeling our inner otter. Thank you, Teresa, for tramping with me. I can’t wait to do so again.

P.S. And with that, I’m proud to say, “It’s a boy!” I’m a great aunt again–to Baby Gormley who was born yesterday morning. May he develop a sense of wonder about the natural world and follow his inner otter.

Craning My Neck

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about living in the moment lately, a concept that really drove itself home during the years that my mother dealt with dementia and I was forced to realize that each time I left the room, my return was a new visit; a new adventure. And now, so many friends are dealing with issues that make every second precious and I realize once again the importance of slowing down and noticing and making the most of being present. Now.

f1

Such was the case this afternoon when I joined two friends who had pulled in from their winter home in Florida this week. We met at one of the parking lots for the Mountain Division Trail in Fryeburg, Maine, a rail trail that makes one feel like you could walk to the White Mountains in a matter of miles. But, to get back to the moment, the original plan had been to travel the trail with two different friends and then one had to back out and I found out that the Florida friends had returned and so I invited them to join the other and me, and then my other friend had to back out and so it was the Florida duo and me. And it was so fabulous to spend time with them that we walked rather quickly, which completely surprised me when I thought about it for I know that they love a slow journey. But we had much to catch up on and because the trail is paved we didn’t have to think about foot placement and perhaps that’s what spurred us on.

f2-tamarack 1

At last, however, it was spurs that stopped us, for one of them spied a branch with upward facing cones and little spurs and she wondered what it was. The cones certainly looked like hemlock cones. But why were they upright? And what happened to the needles? When I explained that it was a tamarack, she again questioned it for she’s always been here in the autumn when the needles are a brilliant yellow and she thought those needles stayed on all winter. Not so, I explained, for a tamarack (larch, hackmatack–take your pick of common names) is our only deciduous conifer in northern New England. The golden needles fall the same as maple leaves.

f11-pussy willows

We also put on the brakes when she spied pussy willows–a sure sign of spring in their Zen-like presentation.

f20

Onward we marched, catching up on past months. But then, as the day would have it, first he had to turn around and head back to the parking lot and then a short time later she had to do the same. And that got me thinking about how the walk had evolved. I was sorry that the two I had originally planned to share the trail with couldn’t join me, but equally thankful for the two with whom I did travel. Living in the moment means embracing a change in direction.

f3-evening primrose basal rosette

The rail trail is four miles long in one direction and I turned around at the 2.5 mile marker. On my return, I was entirely surprised by the offerings that had escaped my attention previously, like the beauty of an Evening Primrose’s basal rosette.

f4-pitch pine cone

It’s fractal fashion was reflected in the pitch pine cones I spotted on the ground and surrounding trees.

f5-pitch again

The pitch pines always draw my fancy and I was especially intrigued by the past, present and future–as I tried to live in the moment. It’s not as easy as it sounds for we so often get caught up in what was or what could be.

f8-red oak

The past produced fruits long since deployed.

f10-speckled alder catkins

The future grew longer before pollinating the shorter.

f7-trailing arbutus in bloom

But in the moment–I spied the first blossoms of Trailing Arbutus.

f9-spotted salamander spermatophores

My return journey was much slower than the first leg, for there was so much to see. Included in the expedition was an examination of a small vernal pool. And what to my wondering eyes did I see? Spotted salamander spermatophores–those little chunks of sperm left behind by males atop cauliflower-shaped platforms.

f14-wood frogs quaking

As if that wasn’t enough, further on I heard a familiar quack and knew wood frogs were active though I couldn’t see them.

f15-wetland

And still further I discovered a wetland I’d never noticed before. Spring peepers sang from the far edges. It was all a surprise for on the walk out I’d told my friends from Florida that I hadn’t seen or heard any vernal pool action yet.

f15a--chipmunk

I just need to spend more time listening and waiting and letting it all play out before me, the same as the chipmunk that was sure I couldn’t see him.

f16-Canada geese

After a three-hour journey, I found my way back to the truck and then decided to take some back roads home. As I passed through farmland where cornfields are prolific, I noticed movement. I so wanted the movement to be another bird, but it was a huge flock of Canada Geese that attracted my attention. Again, I had to live in the moment and enjoy what was before me.

f17-sandhill cranes

And then I turned into the harbor, and was pleasantly surprised for suddenly my eyes cued in on those I sought who stood tall.

f17a--sandhil cranes

And preened.

f18-sandhill cranes

And craned their necks. Sandhill Cranes. In Fryeburg, Maine. They have returned to the harbor for at least  the past five years, probably more and I’ve had the privilege to hear them fly over several times, but today was the first time I was honored to see them. Thank you, Parker, for the tip.

I craned my neck and gave thanks for the moments spent in their presence and lifted up several people who will benefit from a dose of this medicine–Tom, Jinny Mae and Lifeguard Wendy: this one is for the three of you.

 

 

 

Greenwood Nature Mondate

We love Maine both for its natural beauty and historic nature. And so it was today that we enjoyed a wee bit of both as we headed off to Greenwood.

m1-Greenwood City sign

More specifically, Greenwood City.  According to the town website, “The first saw and shingle mill was constructed at ‘Greenwood City’ in 1805. In the mid-1800s, the wood industry moved to the Village of Locke’s Mills as a result of the railroad and a fire which destroyed Greenwood City.” Apparently, the city had been the economic and civic center of Greenwood, but the fire of 1862 changed everything. Nevertheless, this was our kind of city and our intention was to climb the mountain to the left of the sign–Peaked Mountain.

m3-Maggie's Nature Park sign

For years now, I’d heard of Maggie’s Nature Park, but never gave it much thought as a destination. That all changed today. The park encompasses 83 acres of mixed forest across the street from South Pond. It was gifted to the town by Maggie Ring, who had placed it under conservation easement with the Mahoosuc Land Trust. According to an article by Josh Christie in an April 2016 issue of the Portland Press Herald, “As Ring told the MLT in 2005, ‘I gave the land so my grandchildren and everyone else’s grandchildren can enjoy these woods. I want them to enjoy some of God’s good earth.’” 

Our plan was to begin on the orange Ring Hill Trail, and consistently stay to the right as we wove our way around the hill and up Peaked Mountain before descending via Harriet’s Path and finishing with the yellow trail.

m4-elbow tree

Because the temperature was on the crisp side, the snow pack was firm, though there were icy portions in the hemlock grove, and bare trail and ledges as well. As we began, we immediately noted an elbow tree, so formed probably when another tree landed upon it.

m4a-cedar

Moving along at my guy’s brisk speed, I was delighted to note the variety of trees, including cedar, and couldn’t help but imagine the teaching opportunities.

m6-evergreen wood fern

Where the snow had melted, shades of green drew my attention. And with a new season ever so slowly unfolding, I realized I needed to practice my fern ID and so I slowed my guy down for a wee bit. I think he secretly welcomes the breaks for he always finds a rock upon which to sit. One of the characteristics that helped in this ID was the first downward pointing pinnule–it being shorter than the one next to it. I also noted that the stipe or lower stalk, was shorter than the blade, and it was grooved.

m6a-evergreen wood fern

A look at the underside added to my conclusion for last year’s sori were round and all in a row between the midrib and margin. So what was it? Evergreen Wood Fern or Dryopteris intermedia if you choose to get technical. I choose to brush up on my fern ID.

m5-icicles

As we continued along Ring’s Hill, we took in the views from the ledges and under them as well, where icicles pointed toward the land they’d nurture.

m7-snack log

Eventually we followed the yellow blazes to the summit of Peaked Hill–and what to our wondering eyes should appear at a downed log near the view point? Two Dove eggs–the dark chocolate species. A perfect reward for our efforts. But really, the trail required little effort due to its well-executed construction with many zigs and zags to prevent erosion. We hardly felt like we were climbing yet we constantly moved upward.

m8-Mount Abram

The summit of Peaked offered the best views–this one being of Mount Abram, with its ski area at the top and to the right. The ski area is closed for the season, but snow still covered the trails that we could see.

m9-blueberry bushes

Also within our view–highbush blueberry buds suggesting a delightful treat for another day.

m9-toad lichen

And common toadskin lichen reminded me that Big Night is coming soon–that special rainy night(s) when we become sally savers and help amphibians cross that the road to their natal vernal pools. Stay tuned for that–there might be some migration later this week.

m10-trail well marked

All along, we’d noted the trail markers–bright colors and frequent placement made it easy to stick to the trail. But one caused me concern for it looked like it pointed us over the edge.

m11-trail makers

Not to worry, it was merely noting a junction and curve–my guy came in from the right because he’d chosen to follow the ledge from the Mt. Abram viewpoint, while I chose to return to our snack log and then follow the trail to meet him. Together again, we journeyed to the left as the trail markers indicated.

m12-marker curving 'round rock

Rather than stay on the Peaked Mountain Trail all the way back to the parking lot, we continued with our right-hand-turn progression and chuckled when we found one trail marker painted around the curve of a rock–so indicating yet another zig.

m13-dead end

A short spur on the red trail, aka Harriet’s Path, lead to one last point of view.

m14-pond view

South Pond below with Buck and Lapham Ledges in the distance–hikes saved for another day.

m15-boulder field

We looped back to the yellow trail and continued down through a boulder field–one more piece of what made this hike so interesting. It wasn’t long after that we completed the journey, but talked immediately about returning in other seasons for so delightful a trek it was. I can’t wait to see what flowers it has to offer and we both could only imagine it decked out with autumn’s tapestry.

m17-Greenwood Cattle Pound

On the way home, because I was driving, we had one last stop to make–by the Greenwood Cattle Pond built in 1835 just north of the city. Pounds were important features to secure stray animals prior to the invention of barbed wire and the stones would have stood taller than they do today, but still . . . another piece of history saved for this one is on the National Register of Historic Places.

At the end of the day we wondered why it had taken us so long to discover Maggie’s Nature Park, but thankfully we now have. And we gave thanks to Maggie Ring and her vision to protect “God’s good earth” for all of us. We loved the nature of Greenwood on this Mondate. Indeed.

P.S. Another claim to fame for this town: LL Bean was born in Greenwood in 1872.

 

 

 

Kinship With All Forms of Life

I walked today with intent, as I sometimes do, only that intention morphed between the beginning and ending of my journey. You see, I awoke with a need to reach a certain heron rookery that I’ve helped monitor for the Heron Observation Network of Maine during the off-season,  before the owner of the land returns. It’s a bit of a bushwhack to reach the site and in the past, I’ve accompanied Tom for this citizen science effort. Each spring, we’ve visited it at least once to count the number of nests and adults. Sadly, Tom won’t be joining me this year and so I headed off this morning to see what I might see–and be his eyes.

m1-squirrel

They were big eyes to fill–as big as the red squirrel who paused to watch me and then dashed along a stonewall on a mission of its own making.

m2-brook peek

Initially, the journey was a bit of a bee line as I followed a snowmobile trail. It was there that I delighted in the color of the sky and realized that most of the ice had melted on the beaver pond and brook below. I could have headed down to the water’s edge then, but chose to continue toward my destination.

m3-beaver dam inactive

I was almost there, when an old beaver dam forced me to stop. And then I heard a loud crash. I scanned the area and stood still–listening, waiting, wishing.

And then another noise–of movement. Again, I stood still. Nothing.

m4-land bridge

Finally, I arrived at the land bridge that would lead me to the rookery, but . . . my journey stalled and I realized I’d have to save the crossing for another day. Water rushed over the mossy mounds and because I was alone I decided not to risk falling in. As I stood and admired the flow, I thought some more about Tom and the crossing he is making from this life to the next.

m6-more ice bubbles

And I thought of his sense of wonder and ability to instill such in others, even over something as simple as ice baubles.

m 5-ice bubbles

I could hear an eloquent explanation flow forth from him about the movement of bubbles within an icicle formed on a branch.

m7-ice fingers

And I knew he would appreciate the artistic rendering before our shared eyes–in this case a wee bit reminiscent of M.C. Escher’s Transformation Prints.

m27-forest

At last I pulled myself away from the crossing I couldn’t make and turned back toward the forest from which I’d come. Tom had a hand in the vision of these woods–as a forester and as the executive director of the Greater Lovell Land Trust. His vision included forest management that would benefit wildlife. From where I stood, I saw turkey, deer, bobcat, and squirrel tracks.

A third time, I heard a sound and knew that I wasn’t alone. We never are, are we?

m8-mergansers

Eventually I made my way to the water’s edge and noted Hooded Mergansers in the distance. Around another bend, I spotted Wood Ducks. Tom would have loved it for birding was also one of his passions.

m10-beaver works

Within footsteps I admired the work of another forester who called this place home.

m11-beaver attempt

It seemed he’d sampled some trees and they weren’t to his liking–at that moment. Or perhaps something had startled him and he quickly retreated to the water. Either way, he treated this land as if it were his. For it was.

m12-more beaver

Everywhere, beaver works both old and new decorated the forest.

m18-lodge

And a lodge stood tall still partially surrounded by ice.

m7a-goldthread

But there was more of  the woods to see this day, like goldthread’s evergreen leaves that reminded me of cilantro. And also of Tom’s garden, for which he actually has some seedlings that will be ready to plant in another month and its produce will be enjoyed at a later date by those he loved most. Their dinners will be enriched for one last season by his green thumb.

m13-tiny shell

Next, I spied a tiny, fragile shell that was iridescent on the inside and brown on the outside. It couldn’t be a bird egg. Was it from a snail?  Tom would have known.

m14-holy leaf

And then there was a striped maple leaf like none I’ve ever seen before–almost stained-glass in its offering. It only made sense that it be so hol(e)y for in its life cycle it had provided energy to insects and as it continues to break down it will nourish the earth. Tom would recognize the significance of such–renewal, rather than devastation.

m15-hobblebush

There were other things to note, including a hobblebush flower bud that formed between its praying hand leaf buds.

m21-lungwort

And lungwort that served as an indicator of a rich, healthy ecosystem. Indeed.

m19-heron

I stood for a long time by the water’s edge, thinking of Tom and then I spied it. A Great Blue Heron flew in and landed across the way. My intention was honored. And Tom’s.

m24-rotten apples

At last I headed back the way I had come and passed through a field where a couple of apple trees grow. As I’d journeyed I had noted scat after scat–some filled with apple chunks and seeds. Of course, I rejoiced because I have an affinity for scat.

But Tom, too, would have rejoiced for what he set out to do so many years ago was to create wildlife corridors–those links of joined natural habitat. For Tom, that’s what it’s all been about–maintaining the ecological processes that allow mammals of all kinds to move and continue to be viable. And for the land on which they traveled to also be viable.

His has been a kinship with all forms of life beginning with the minute, like his shiitake mushrooms and the earth within his gardens and ending with . . . there is no ending, only new beginnings. May Tom’s next beginning be through the eyes of a Golden Eagle. As he soars above us, may he approve of the continued good works of others who try to emulate the legacy he will leave behind.

Godspeed Tom. And thank you.